A 29-year-old Tamil asylum seeker, Leo Seemanpillai, died last Sunday in a Melbourne hospital after setting himself on fire. Seemanpillai is the second Sri Lankan refugee living in Australia to self-immolate in the past two months. But despite passing laws that increasingly restrict asylum seekers from settling in Australia over the past two years, a poll from January shows that 60 percent of Australians want the government to “increase the severity of the treatment of asylum seekers.”
Like many refugees fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries, Leo Seemanpillai came to Australia by boat, arriving in the city of Darwin in Jan. 2013. He had previously lived in a refugee camp in India, where he and his family settled after fleeing the Sri Lankan civil war in 1990. Seemanpillai arrived just four months before Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s government stepped up measures against asylum seekers by passing the Migration Amendment Act of 2013, which declares all asylum seekers who arrive by boat to be ‘illegals’ and requires their transfer to offshore detention centers. As of January, nearly 6,000 asylum seekers were under detention, with over 100 having been held for over two years.